As I mentioned in a couple of my previous posts, there appears to be a tsunami of books critical of the internet under way. I am setting about reading some of them, since being at Stanford and in Silicon Valley, I live among the priests and generally hear only praise for it and its potential. To suggest that the internet is becoming less useful because of the overwhelming and often low quality if not useless) information it contains is somewhat like wandering through the Vatican wearing a sign proclaiming that there is no God. But I am not an internet atheist. In fact I use it a lot for reasons ranging from doing research for writing (even though everyone is aware that using URL’s as a source is rather ridiculous, because the content in them changes and they go away), through watching videos my friends tell me to watch on YouTube (and I do), to finding tomorrow’s weather prediction, And oh yes, I have this blog , and am on Twitter, Facebook, and Linked in, although I at this point I am not exactly sure why—so maybe I am an agnostic. More about that in a later post.
I recently finished The Distraction Addiction, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. More details can be found under recommended books at the left side of this blog. The author is a scholar-writer-researcher-futurist, who as the title of the book indicates, is extremely interested in the importance of attention and the cost of distraction on getting things done and enjoying life. He draws from sources ranging from cognitive psychology to Buddhism. I very much enjoyed the breadth of the book, which can be inferred from the subtitle “Getting the Information You Need and Want Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Losing your Soul”.
The author has a good sense of humor and a good writing style, but this is not a comic book. And it is far from an anti-internet rant. The author and his family are obviously eager and informed users, even bonding by playing computer games together after dinner. But instead it is a book of reasons why it is necessary to consciously control ones attention and limit distraction in this day of ever increasing opportunities to escape into endless communication, videos, surfing, and other such activities. The book is both fun to read and thought provoking. It reminds us that there are tremendous resources and very bright people tempting us toward seemingly being busily, if not frantically, involved with each other and the world, but maybe neither accomplishing as much as we might that will affect ourselves or others in the longer term, nor taking proper advantages of other ways to enjoy life The author calls his approach contemplative computing. He not only reminds us of the traps of existing with the internet, but suggests ways to better avoid them, including such things as digital sabbaticals and taking advantage of software such as Freedom, He clearly feels that we should be more mindful of the mind, as do I. The internet is a formidable attack on our very valuable, but already limited attention.